Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well

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Guest Blogger : Belly Fat and Your Risk of Chronic Disease

Watch Your WaistDo you have more than an inch to pinch? When you look down, have the tips of your toes disappeared? If so, you might want to measure your belly fat, which can increase your risk for chronic disease.

According to an article by Mayo Clinic staff; it is common for “belly fat,” also known as visceral fat, to appear after menopause due to low levels of estrogen. It is estrogen that influences where we store fat in our body. So let’s measure our risk! Determine your waist circumference by locating the top of your hip bones. Use a measuring tape from this point to pull snug, but not so much to compress your skin. Run the tape around your middle; take your final measurement when you exhale.

Now that we’ve measured our “belly fat,” let’s discuss why it may not “just be a cosmetic concern.” You should know that “belly fat” can increase inflammation and produce hormones that raise blood pressure, negatively change the balance of good (HDL) to bad (LDL) cholesterol and promote insulin resistance, a risk factor for developing diabetes.

As a registered dietitian, I encourage people to improve their health through good nutrition and physical activity. Shed those extra pounds to avoid complications associated with “belly fat” and the “bad stuff” it creates. Eat foods that help you feel full, such as whole grains and high fiber foods like peas, dried beans and lentils. To expand your antioxidant arsenal without adding extra calories from fat, enjoy fruit and non-starchy vegetables. Great choices are berries, cherries, apples, carrots, tomatoes and dark green, leafy vegetables!

We all need to consider the effect chronic disease has on our body, but people with a genetic risk for diabetes also need to worry about the damage high blood sugars can cause to the eyes, kidneys and feet. A decrease in “belly fat” may help to reduce these effects.Woman on Exercise Machine

Other concerns for those with diabetes
In addition to a healthy diet, be as physically active as possible. In general most of us should be at least moderately active. Moderate activity is defined as being physically active at least 150 minutes per week. This level of activity could be met by walking 30 minutes, 5 days a week.

Talk to your physician about the importance of maintaining adequate vitamin D levels. Low vitamin D is associated with a 30% to 50% increased risk for breast cancer. Remember, some of our best defense can be found in “super foods” such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cranberries and green tea. You could also add ground flaxseed to your cereal or have a moderate amount (1-2 servings a day) of soy or tofu. Did you know certain brands of mushrooms are a great source for vitamin D?

Please know, current literature is still mixed about the impact of plant estrogens in people with hormonally sensitive cancer of the breast, ovaries or prostate. Speak with your physician about this topic and practice caution with the use of phytoestrogen supplements, soy powders and capsules, as they could be linked to recurrence of cancer. As with all medical nutrition recommendations, individualization is essential. Speak with a registered dietitian today if you have more questions about healthy eating for disease prevention.

Schleder, Missy RD

Melissa S. Schleder
Registered Dietitian, Springfield Clinic Endocrinology
Resources: ; ;; ;

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School’s Out for Summer!

Well, maybe our kids have replaced the lyrics of Alice Cooper with the likes of One Direction and Taylor Swift, but the story remains the same. No more pencils, no more books, and a lot more freedom to eat, play and watch TV as children please.

appleIt’s important as parents to provide a wide variety of healthy, nutritious foods at home. By improving access to healthy food options and limiting unhealthy selections, you can feel more confident knowing that your children are consuming well-balanced meals and snacks at home. As a 12-year-old, my days usually started with a big bowl of sugary, sweetened cereal, followed by mac ‘n cheese, hot dogs and an unhealthy dose of soap operas. While I was also very active with swimming, riding bikes and jumping on trampolines, my diet certainly had room for improvement. It’s never too early or too late to teach your kids about nutrition and well-balanced meals. The simplest way to illustrate a healthy meal is using the plate method. The plate method encourages you to fill half your plates with fruits and vegetables, one fourth with lean protein and one fourth with grains (preferably whole grains).myplate

Here is a list of examples to help your kids put together healthy, well-balanced meals.


  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole grain cereal
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Brown or wild rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat or corn tortilla
  • Popcorn


  • Chicken
  • Fish,
  • Turkey
  • Lean meat
  • Eggs
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Beans


  • Low-fat milk
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Low-fat cheese/string cheese
  • Smoothies


  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Grapes
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Peaches
  • Pears


  • Green salad
  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Fresh green beans
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Red, yellow, green bell peppers
  • Cucumbers

Sweetened cereals like Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms are not the best start for the day because they lack many important nutrients and contain excessive amounts of added sugars. Here’s a tip for weaning kids away from these sugar-packed cereal varieties: encourage kids to mix a healthier cereal such as Cheerios, Bran Flakes, Shredded Mini Wheats or other high-fiber variety into their favorite cereal. This will help reduce the portion size of the sugary cereal and help improve the nutrient intake of fiber. Apple chunks, blueberries, banana slices, chopped nuts or dried fruit can be easily added to oatmeal to make breakfast more well-rounded. Whole grain tortillas spread with peanut butter and banana slices or eggs, low-fat cheese, salsa and beans make two great protein-packed breakfasts.celery

Lunch meals tend to be heavy on the starches. A turkey sandwich, chips, granola bar and dessert were the typical items packed in my lunch when going to summer camp.

The results of this lunch meal: Starch=5, Protein=1, and Fruits, Vegetables and Dairy=0.

To make this lunchbox healthier, we can swap the chips with low-fat yogurt, trade the granola bar for carrot and celery sticks with one tablespoon of low-fat ranch, and include a clementine for the dessert. Mac ‘n cheese is okay to eat still, but it should be featured as a side item rather than the entrée. Pre-cutting vegetables and fruits and measuring individual containers of peanut butter, hummus, yogurt or low-fat ranch for dips can make healthy selections much more accessible.

Another valuable lesson to learn early on in life is that snacks do not equal desserts. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be fun. Try to create snacks that include at least two food groups. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Homemade trail mix with nuts, dried fruit and whole grain cereal
  • Celery logs topped with peanut butter and raisins
  • Small oranges with low-fat string cheese
  • Slice apples to make a mini peanut butter, granola sandwiches
  • Top a whole grain cracker with low-fat cream cheese and grape halves
  • Mix yogurt with fresh fruit chunks

grapesSometimes, rules need to be enforced on how much screen time is allowed each day. It is recommended that kids spend no more than two hours per day watching TV, playing video games, on the computer, etc. If you find  your kids do spend excessive amounts of time in front of the TV, try setting limits like “TV may only be watched from 1:00-2:30.” Physical activity should always be encouraged in a positive light and never used as a form of punishment. Encourage safe, outdoor activities; it’s summer time after all!

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Eating Right Through All Stages of Life

Healthful eating and physical activity play a significant role in aging well. For older individuals, it may be a bit harder to consume adequate levels of nutrients each and every day. Chewing difficulties, appetite changes, medications, stress of caring for ill family members and a decrease in digestive enzymes can all affect dietary choices and nutrient absorption.

Protein is a vital component in our diets. It serves as the building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Protein intake is also associated with wound healing, recovery and immunity. Many older adults observe a loss in lean body mass as they age. Adequate protein intake can help preserve that lean muscle tissue. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein for adults is 0.8 grams of protein/kg of body weight. Newer research is suggesting that the protein needs for older adults may be higher than this well-established recommendation. Protein sources with the best bioavailability include eggs, milk, poultry, fish and meat. Beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains can also provide protein in the diet, but these sources do not contain all the essential amino acids needed in the diet and most be consumed with complimentary protein sources.pumpkinoatmeal

One problem that many older adults face is a difficulty in chewing. Tough foods such as animal proteins can become more cumbersome to consume at meals. Cutting proteins into small pieces or utilizing moist cooking methods are two ways to help make chewing easier. Here are a few other tips for increasing protein in the diet:

  • Add dry milk powder to soups, sauces, casseroles or mashed potatoes
  • Consume cheese on whole wheat toast, whole wheat crackers, vegetables or soups
  • Keep hard-cooked eggs readily available for snacks or salads
  • Add leftover meats to soups, casseroles, salads, omelets or shredded into a dip mix
  • Sprinkle chopped nuts such as walnuts onto cereal, yogurt or on top of salads.
  • Stir in beans into sauces and pasta dishes
  • Order fish dishes when dining out since fish tends to be more tender and easier to chew
  • Spread peanut butter on toast, English muffins, whole grain bagels or whole wheat crackers

Taking care of loved ones often takes priority over one’s own health. My grandma was the sole caretaker of my grandpa when he became ill later in life. With each visit to my grandparent’s home, it was very noticeable that my grandma was losing weight mainly from increased stress levels and putting her own needs second to those of her husband. It’s just as important to encourage our healthy loved ones to consume well-balanced meals in addition to those suffering from illness.

As the body ages, it does not absorb vitamins and minerals as efficiently. Nutrients impacted by these physiological changes include Vitamin D, Calcium and Vitamin B-12. Good sources of these nutrients include milk or fortified milk substitute, yogurt, cheese, fatty fish, egg yolks, dark green vegetables and poultry. Dementia is often regarded as a natural part of aging; however, one possibility for memory loss and signs of dementia could be due to a Vitamin B-12 deficiency.

Fluid needs are also a concern for older individuals. Many people lose the strong sense of thirst as they age, making them more susceptible to dehydration. In addition to consuming adequate fluid amounts, consuming foods with high water contents like fruits, vegetables and soups can also preserve one’s hydration status.

Researchers at Tufts University have developed a modified plate method that addresses dietary concerns for older individuals. Proper nutrition is a significant component in the prevention and management of chronic diseases. Today marks the 20th anniversary for National Senior Health and Fitness Day but remember, every day is a new opportunity to make wholesome, nutritious food choices.

Find out more on nutrition for older adults.


Recipe: Pumpkin Oatmeal

pumpkinoatmealA great way to start off the day with a whole grain, vegetable serving and heart-healthy fiber.

Pumpkin Oatmeal

1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
3/4 cup low-fat or fat-free milk, or as needed
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp cinnamon sugar
2 tbsp crushed walnuts (optional)


Mix together oats and milk in a microwave-safe bowl. Cook on high for one to two minutes, stirring once. Add more milk or oats to achieve the desired consistency, and cook for another 30 seconds. Stir in pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon sugar. Heat through, and serve. Makes two servings.

Nutritional Information Per Serving

Calories: 212. Total Fat: 4 g. Cholesterol:  5 mg. Total Carbohydrate: 37 g. Dietary Fiber: 6 g. Protein: 9 g.

For more great heart-healthy recipes visit the Springfield Clinic Health Library.


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